11 July 2024

Coca Siam Square, once a cool place for youngsters in the old days, now closed down for good, but customers can still tuck into the legendary suki dishes at other outlets.

Many people won’t remember or even know, but there was a time when it was cool for youngsters to hang out at a sukiyaki restaurant. Before that time, if they wanted to eat sukiyaki or “suki” as it was known, kids had to go with their parents to traditional food shops, where the dish was ready-cooked and not served in the at-the-table dip-and-boil style Thais have come to love.

Before the mushrooming of shopping malls, Siam Square was the most popular spot for shopping and dining and also the must-go location for a suki blowout. Coca Holding International Co, one of the pioneers of suki restaurant chains in Thailand, chose to locate its biggest branch at the community mall on Henri Dunant Road.

For 54 years, Coca Siam Square has served its signature dishes to generation after generation of diners. Students of nearby schools and universities had their very first “rub nong” (welcome freshies) at the restaurant. Some had their first date therefore and many fell in love and wed at this restaurant. The level of emotional connections to this restaurant is so high that even the restaurant owner underestimated the love.

“I never expect this (massive) reaction when I posted about the closure of Coca Siam on Facebook,” Natalie Phanphensophon, Coca Holding International’s chief operating officer, told Thai PBS World.

“Personally, I feel sorry too about the closure of Coca’s Henri Dunant branch,” she said.

Unique spot at Coca Siam Square. (Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae)

Her grandfather Srichai Phanphensophon opened this second branch of Coca 54 years ago, eight years after the opening of the first restaurant on Surawongse Road. “This ‘new’ location made Coca popular among customers and it was my granddad’s vision to pick Siam Square. At that time, there was no shopping mall, yet he foresaw a trend that people from all of the walks of would come to Siam Square to eat out and he was right.”

Natalie, the third generation of the founding Coca family, just wanted to inform regular customers about the closure of its legendary branch. “May 18 will be the last day for Siam Square branch but other branches will open as usual. Coca and all our staff would like to thank our customers for the last 54 years. Many have memories at this restaurant so we’d like to invite you to come for the last photo opportunity,” read the Coca Restaurant post on Facebook.

The news went viral and before Natalie knew it, there were too many customers at the Siam Square branch to handle on May 18. Current Covid-19 measures mean the restaurant can only seat 25 % of its capacity. Many people who walked in without booking did not have a chance to eat in their favorite place.

All they could do was to apologize to customers and said they could order to-go or visit other branches. The company now has five branches in Bangkok, and another branch in Hua Hin in Prachuab Khiri Khan province.

The closure has underlined the relationships and feelings customers have for the place. The management and staff were overwhelmed by the number of walk-in customers on the last two days.

But even loyal customers could not save the restaurant during the pandemic. Natalie said that the business was badly hit by the Covid-19 waves so the company decided to close the branch when its lease with the Property Management of Chulalongkorn University came to an end. Siam Square is the third branch to close as a result of the pandemic, with the Time Square and Chaeng Wattana outlets shutting their doors earlier. But none of the closures has had the same impact on customers as the legendary Siam Square branch.

The new normal means it is difficult for 100% of dine-in restaurants to survive. The company has to adjust and adapt the business to stay afloat during these tough times. The company is still looking for space for a branch at Siam Square but they said it will not be a big place as before.

“Who knows when the outbreak will be over or even whether it will get worse and never really be over at all. We’ve got to prepare ourselves to cope with the situation. We won’t let Covid defeat Coca,” Natalie said.

By Veena Thoopkrajae
Photos are courtesy of Coca otherwise stated